Institutionalize Adversarial Media Bias

Megan Mcardle deserves reading on how journalistic bias works. Take-home:

While it’s undoubtedly true that some reporters consciously repress facts which threaten their ideological priors, I don’t think that’s really the issue in most cases.  What bias does–in science, in media, in any situation where information is gathered–is affect what questions you ask.

Later, Megan

Journalistic ethics, a committment to truth, and so forth, are supposed to compensate for the fact that yes indeed, 95% of my peers vote Democratic in almost every national election.  But intention is no substitute for that fiery, almost angry “that can’t be right” reaction which drives us to dredge for more information… But we don’t investigate things that everyone knows–reporters do not start off each new story by checking if gravity is still in operation.  The more things that everyone knows, the more unnoticed holes there will be in stories.  And there is no one without blind spots–the best you can achieve is getting together a bunch of conscientious people who all have different blind spots. For all the laments over partisan media, there are actually ways in which it is a check on this sort of blindness.

The adversarial legal system is premised on exactly this truth: that countervailing biases will, on balance, produce better results than a single investigator attempting to be unbiased. In court, lawyers are paid to be as biased as possible. We’re not quite there yet in the newsmedia, but we keep getting closer to a divided press; advocates paid to be biased. This is a good thing, treated as a disaster.


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